Connecticut is the third smallest state in area in the Union, after Rhode Island and Delaware. It is also the fourth most densely populated state. Positioned at the southernmost part of New England, Connecticut is bordered by New York on the west, Rhode Island on the east, Massachusetts on the north, and Long Island Sound–an arm of the Atlantic Ocean–on the south.
Connecticut is the third smallest state in area in the Union, after Rhode Island and Delaware. It is also the fourth most densely populated state. Positioned at the southernmost part of New England, Connecticut is bordered by New York on the west, Rhode Island on the east, Massachusetts on the north, and Long Island Sound–an arm of the Atlantic Ocean–on the south. Like most New England states, Connecticut is shaped by its abundance of water. It has more than 1,000 lakes and 8,400 miles of rivers and streams. The three major rivers flowing through the state, the Connecticut, the Housatonic, and the Thames, provide ports, fishing, and power for industry.
The Connecticut River Valley has very fertile land; potatoes, corn, onions, lettuce, tobacco, and other crops are grown there. Forests cover 60 percent of the state, making Connecticut one of the most wooded states in the United States. Maple trees are used to supply sugar and syrup. Until the nineteenth century, salmon fishing was a highly profitable industry. After a dam was built on the Connecticut River, preventing salmon from reaching their spawning grounds, the salmon supply was depleted.
Connecticut was inhabited by American Indian tribes for thousands of years before the first Europeans came to North America. By the 1600’s approximately twenty thousand Algonquian Indians lived in the region. The dominant tribe was the Pequot, a warrior group who conquered most of the Connecticut River Valley in the 1500’s. Other tribes included the Narragansetts, Quinnipiacs, Mohegans, and Saukiogs, who hunted moose, deer, and bear and grew corn, beans, and squash.
Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed the Connecticut River in 1614, meeting friendly Podunk Indians. In 1633 Dutch settlers built the House of Good Hope trading post near modern Hartford, where they traded with the Native Americans. In the same year, English settlers founded Windsor. Violence erupted between the settlers and the Pequots in 1637 over land disputes. The Native Americans were defeated during the Pequot War, with losses of six hundred people. Many remaining Native Americans left the state, and by 1990, Indians made up only 0.2 percent of the population.
In 1638, 250 Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony established the New Haven Colony. The government was based on the Fundamental Agreement, which stated that the Bible was the supreme law. The colony was not inclusive; only Puritans were allowed to vote or hold office.
The residents of Wethersfield, Windsor, and Hartford joined to form the Colony of Connecticut in 1639. This colony’s government was based on the teachings of Reverend Thomas Hooker, which were known as the Fundamental Orders. A Puritan preacher, Hooker believed that the right to vote should belong to all, regardless of their religion. The Fundamental Orders, which served as Connecticut’s constitution for many years, were the first document in the New World to give the government its power from the “free consent of the people.”
In 1643, the Connecticut, New Haven, Massachusetts, and Plymouth Colonies banded together, forming the Confederation of New England. The colonies stayed independent of each other but made a pact to act together in times of war. In 1662, the Connecticut Colony received a royal charter, allowing it self-rule. The charter was revoked, however, twenty-three years later by King James. Edmund Andros, acting for the duke of York, tried to claim the area west of the Connecticut River for the New York Colony. The residents of Connecticut refused to turn over their charter, supposedly hiding it in an oak tree, and they were able to resume self-rule in 1689. Connecticut became a state, the fifth in the Union, in 1788.
Connecticut played a major role in the American Revolution. It sent thirty thousand soldiers into action–more, in relation to its population, than any other colony. These men included more than three hundred black soldiers. General George Washington called Connecticut the “Provisions State” because it sent so many supplies and munitions to the soldiers. The colony’s navy captured more than forty British ships.
Connecticut produced both villains and heroes. One of its residents, Benedict Arnold, became a spy for the British, led English troops in an attack at Fort Griswold, and burned down the city of New London. Connecticut’s Nathan Hale was a spy for the Union and became famous for the last words he uttered before the British hanged him: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
In the mid-1700’s about three to five thousand blacks lived in the colony, most of them slaves. A law was passed in 1774 prohibiting residents from bringing in new slaves, and the 1784 Connecticut Emancipation Law allowed children born to slaves to be freed at the age of twenty-five. After the Revolution, all slaves who fought were freed.
A well-publicized Connecticut court case in 1839 brought the issue of slavery to national attention. Africans carried in the Spanish slave ship Amistad mutinied and tried to force the crew to turn the ship back to Africa. The crew instead secretly headed for Long Island, and the rebels, led by Joseph Cinqué, stood trial in Hartford for murder and piracy. In 1840 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Africans were born free and taken as slaves against their will, so they were returned home. Slavery was banished in Connecticut in 1848. Later, the antislavery state sent more than fifty-seven thousand men to fight in the Civil War on the Union side.
In its early days, Connecticut’s economy depended on agriculture and fishing. Its economy grew during the early 1800’s with the construction of cotton, wool, and paper mills. Samuel Colt invented the six-shooter, the first repeating pistol, and his factories boomed. A machine to remove seeds from cotton, the cotton gin, invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney, added to the growth of industry.
Connecticut was hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930’s, with 22 percent of its workers unemployed. However, the state’s economy bounced back during World War II. Connecticut produced more war supplies per person than any other state. In the late 1940’s, more than half of its adult population worked in factories. Most of the industry was centered in ten towns, especially New Haven, Bridgeport, and Danbury, and half of Connecticut residents lived in these factory towns.
After the 1950’s, textile production and other factory work subsided, and service jobs grew. Most middle-class families left the cities, and poverty increased in urban areas. Urban renewal programs initiated in the 1950’s to 1970’s could not counter the riots that took place in poor areas in 1967.
By the end of the twentieth century, Hartford was the insurance capital of the world, a position it had held since the late 1700’s. Groton was the submarine capital of the world in the early part of the century, but massive layoffs in the defense industry in the 1990’s forced the closure of many shipyards and factories. Connecticut’s population fell by several thousand during this period.
The state’s economy was revitalized by the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Foxwoods Casino, which opened in 1993 as the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere. Paying the state one-quarter of its earnings, the casino pumps about $1 billion per year into Connecticut’s economy. Nevertheless, the state imposed its first income tax in 1993, to the dismay of many.
Connecticut traditionally has been a Republican state. In 1974, however, Ella T. Grasso, a Democrat and the first Connecticut governor of Italian descent, became the first female governor of a state elected in her own right. In 1981 Thirman Milner of Hartford became the first African American mayor of a New England city.
Crime rates fell in the 1990’s, and efforts were being made to clean up Connecticut’s deteriorating inner cities. The state government instituted a drug-policy reform in which drug addicts receive methadone (a heroin substitute) treatments and thereby possibly avoid long-term imprisonment. Connecticut was the first state to place drug courts in every jurisdiction. About 75 percent of the defendants stay in the program, compared to about 25 percent in regular drug-treatment programs.